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US Marines missing off Hawaiian coast after helicopters collide

Two Marine transport helicopters were on a routine training exercise off the coast of Hawaii when the aircraft collided, igniting a huge fireball. Stormy weather and high seas are hampering search and rescue efforts.

US Marine Helicopter CH-53E hovers off the Hawaiian coast during a training exercise.

This archive image shows a CH-53E helicopter

Choppy seas, with 20 foot (six meter) swells, are hampering the search for 12 United States Marines off the coast of Hawaii.

The Marines went missing 8 miles (13 kilometers) off the coast of Oahu after their two CH-53E helicopters collided during a nighttime training exercise. Neither aircraft issued a distress signal and the military only became aware of the crash after a beach-goer reported seeing a huge fireball over the ocean.

At least two Navy warships, two Coast Guard vessels, multiple Coast Guard aircraft, the Air Force, as well as local police and fire helicopters are participating in an "active search and rescue" operation for the missing soldiers.

A debris field was spotted off shore and covered an area of 2 miles, according to the Coast Guard.

"We've seen debris through the entire area," said Lieutenant Scott Carr, a Coast Guard spokesman.

Coast Guard spokeswoman Sara Mooers said the search would continue throughout the night, despite the stormy weather and rough seas.

"It does move things around and keeps us busy," Mooers said.

Shook the house

Elaray Navarro, a retiree who lives across the street from the beach, said she heard two booms late Thursday that were loud enough to shake her house. She expressed concern for the crew as she watched the pounding surf from a beach park in Haleiwa.

The helicopters that crashed

were attached to the Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 463 of the service's 1st Marine Air Wing in Hawaii.

The family of Capt. Kevin Roche believes he was one of the Marines aboard the helicopters.

"We believe the Marines and Coast Guard are doing everything they can to bring Kevin and his fellow Marines home safely, and we are grateful to everyone involved in the rescue," read a family statement distributed by brother-in-law Anthony Kuenzel in St. Louis, Missouri.

The CH-53E is a transport helicopter

, capable of carrying small armored vehicles, 16 tons of cargo or a team of combat equipped Marines.

The crash comes less than a year after a Marine Corps tilt-rotor aircraft crashed during a training exercise in Hawaii, killing two Marines. The MV-22 Osprey went down last May with 21 Marines and a Navy corpsman on board.

In 2011, one serviceman was killed and three others injured when a CH-53D Sea Stallion chopper crashed in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii.

bik/se (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)

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